The Homewood – ‘temple of costly experience’

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It’s impossible to talk about the garden of The Homewood without referencing the house. (And the house without referencing the garden.) This is a modernist gem, famously built by the architect Patrick Gwynne in 1938 when he was only 24.

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Let’s repeat that. Only 24!

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Perhaps it’s not surprising then that his ‘clients’ were his parents, and that it was his father who called it a ‘temple of costly experience.’

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I think that comment was made with both love and a touch of humour though, this is clearly a successful and much loved building and landscape which achieved the objectives of being both an advertisement for Patrick’s growing architectural practise and a family home. Patrick himself lived there until his death in 2003 when the house was taken over by the National Trust.

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Although not generally open to the public, it is possible to join a guided tour on alternate Fridays and Saturdays between April and October (arriving in a minibus from nearby Claremont Landscape garden). In some ways I think these small groups work better, because this is above all, ‘domestic architecture’. All of the furniture and fittings in the house were also designed by Patrick, for comfort and entertaining as well as for their aesthetic value. We couldn’t take photographs inside, but this outside cabinet gives a feeling.

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I felt the gardens and house complimented each other perfectly, although I read later in the guidebook that the landscape we see today wasn’t laid out by Patrick until the 1960s. It was, he insisted, ‘a woodland garden, not a park.’

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It is a garden designed to feel much bigger than it is. It follows the 18th century fashion of being able to spot a glimpse of the house from the entrance before the path curving around to hide it until you actually reach the door.

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I don’t think Patrick would have allowed those bins though.

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Although he might have whizzed past them in one of the cars parked in the very exciting-for-the-times garage large enough to house four cars. Apparently Gwynne’s last car – a 1784 Aston Martin V8 series III – can still sometimes be seen.

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And everywhere outside in, inside out. These glass tiles at the front door were specially designed to allow the light into the entrance so plants could grow successfully in the hallway.

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This outside kitchen is everything the ‘modern housewife’ could have dreamt of. My mum would have done anyway. It gave me a pang of nostalgia – and, yes, envy too myself!

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Patrick’s ashes are buried at the foot of this copper beech planted in the garden in 2004.

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But I could just imagine him still sitting here too, working on the willow fences that blend so well into the woods.

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A lovely mix of ancient views…

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… with surprises that sill feel modern.

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The only thing that jarred were these beds of begonias although I am sure that someone will point out that they are contemporaneous and therefore authentic.

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The enamel panels on the south front are by Stefan Knapp and they are designed to reflect the garden back on itself.

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It was from them I took inspiration, and because I could imagine my mother here too, I wrote this poem:

Reflections

I was too young to notice the changes in each bed,
how the roses fade and new buds grow and roses
grow and new buds fade and why

it mattered so much
if plants kept seeding and dying and seeding and

then I watched my mother in the garden,
her face turned to the sun, the sun turning
around her, saw my face in hers, the moon.

The Homewood is open to the public only as part of a guided tour. You can find out more information here.
Date visited: August 2013

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